How to Interview Potential Roommates

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Most of us have a saga about a roommate-gone-wrong; some of us have dozens of sob stories and are still waiting for that perfect living companion.

But few of us, in retrospect, probably thought enough about what we could have asked a potential roommate to determine if they would be a suitable match. Instead, we tend to talk about past co-habitation nightmares -- her boyfriend who never leaves, dirty dishes in the sink and other slovenliness, or how we had to chase after them to chip in on their share of the bills.

Perhaps those sticky situations of the past could have been averted by asking the right questions before the move-in.

To hone in on what to ask and how exactly to phrase your inquiry, RentedSpaces talked to handful of executives from online roommate-search companies. Here's their advice on some of the key questions to pose as you begin your quest for the (yes, they exist) ideal roommate.


Matthew Young, vice president of PlaceFinder LLC, recommends asking a roommate candidate upfront, "Would you mind exchanging profile information via Facebook or MySpace?" This initial get-to-know-you tactic, he says, gives an opportunity to explore a part of another's life that may not be apparent through a line of questioning.

To knock out any doubts about their financial solvency, Young also suggests asking: "How do you plan on paying for your share of the rent?" and "Would you mind co-signing the lease?"

"If they refuse to co-sign, then it is probable that they are trying to evade paying the rent at some point soon," he says.

Akin to a job interview, Young advises another toughie, "Do you have any references?" He explains -- just as an employer uses the information -- a credible, responsive source that speaks highly of your potential roommate is a good indication of a person's character.

Most executives I spoke to agreed that peppering a possible living companion with questions about their lifestyle habits is critical. "Ask him or her about their schedule," says David Kadavy, founder of HeyRoommates, a site which organizes social outings for roommates-to-be.

"For many 9-to-5ers, having a bunch of people over until midnight on a Saturday night isn't a big deal," he says. "But, if you have a roommate who often has to work first thing on a Sunday morning, this isn't going to work out."

Dig up some of their past experiences about sharing an apartment with others, adds Kadavy. Quiz them with questions like "What were some of your roommates like?" An individual, who shares a bevy of their own roommate nightmare stories and seems to be easily agitated by things, may signal that they are not an ideal match -- for anyone.

Kadavy has a clever way of framing the 'are you tidy-or-messy' conundrum: "How clean do you like to keep your apartment? Phrasing it in this manner, he explains, zones into what they consider their standards of clean. Next, he suggests specific follow-ups, like "How long do you leave dishes in the sink? What amount of mold in the shower is too much?"

Experts say another big lifestyle question is about significant others. Young suggests prying a little with this question: "Do you expect to have frequent visitors staying the night on a regular basis?"

In addition to uncovering a boyfriend or girlfriend that may be hanging around the place a lot, other habits that you'll want to find out about are smoking, drinking and drugs, sleeping patterns, and whether they have pets or food allergies.

Robin Owsley, one of the founders of RoomieMatch.com, says their method of matching up the perfect living companions relies on a complete questionnaire, which inquires about a wide range of issues from furnishings, parking and the level of cleanliness in a bathroom, to children and sexual orientation. The form poses multiple-choice questions on what to do with personal items left in the common area or how you'd define your personal grooming habits to what your stance is on issues like a one-night stand and borrowing.

"We think you need to ask everything in a roommate-matching questionnaire," Owsley says.

Ready to find your roommate-cum-soulmate? Well, that may be a little too ambitious, but at least you'll be much more prepared than last time, when you said those careless words, "Yeah, whatever. I'm going to see if it works out."

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